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6th Feb 2020 – The Hindu Topic 1
“Polarised state of union: On U.S. politics riven by partisan hostility”
The politics of the United States has rarely, if ever, been as contentious, and riven by partisan hostility, as it is at the present juncture. U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address exemplified the multiple fractures in the consciousness of the American collective psyche in this regard. His speech before both Houses of the U.S. Congress, minus some Democrat lawmakers who boycotted it, went on for more than an hour, yet there was no mention of arguably the most intensely polarising issue on Capitol Hill: impeachment. On the day before his likely acquittal by the Republican-majority Senate, the President showed restraint — possibly holding out for a victory lap after being cleared by the Upper House. This contrasted with his periodic Twitter outbursts attacking the impeachment process. However, there could be little doubt about how frosty cross-party relations are — he appeared to snub House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to shake his hand before the speech, and Ms. Pelosi ripped up a copy of the speech after it had ended, saying later that it was a “manifesto of mistruths”. Nevertheless, substantively, Mr. Trump’s annual address focused on claiming credit for a “great American comeback” on the back of a healthy economy — including historically low levels of unemployment, rising median income and unprecedented cuts in “job-killing” regulations — even though the economic recovery after the 2008 downturn began under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
However, that all is not well with the state of the American union is evident from the tenor of the ongoing Democratic nomination race. Democrats of several hues, from the more centrist, including former Vice-President Joe Biden, to the more leftist, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, have focused their political attacks on Mr. Trump and less so on internal differences within their camp. Presently, the Iowa caucus, the first of a season of caucuses and primaries that will decide the ultimate nominee to take on Mr. Trump in the November 2020 election, has given Democrats renewed purpose. Yet the microcosm of the Democratic campaign process mirrors their biggest handicap on the national stage — too many aspirants jockeying for power and visibility, leading inevitably to fragmentation of their overall prospects against Mr. Trump’s incumbency advantage. Unless they quickly rally behind one tall leader — if such a person exists in their midst — they stand a slim chance of mounting a serious challenge to the 45th President. Yet, given the vastly divergent views across party lines on core issues such as the economy and climate change, there could not be more at stake for Democrats, and indeed those who, despite residing beyond America’s shores, are weary of trade wars and the relentless undermining of multilateralism.